With brightly colored hats, matching dresses, sweaters and, in some cases, accessories, the crowd at Lake Accotink Park was dressed to the nines to enjoy an almost summer-like Saturday afternoon.
In a pale green dress, shiny black shoes and a tiny white hat with green roses, Sarah was going to be a tough contestant to beat in the Spring Bonnet contest. But then, so were Abby and Maggie, in striped skirts and coordinating hats, nicely paired with the green beaded earrings hidden under Maggie’s hat.
"She flew all the way up from Florida to see this competition and their outfits," said Fred Orzehowski of Pat Blair, who designed Maggie and Abby’s dresses.
"Yeah, now all my friends want me to make dresses for them too," Blair said. "They saw pictures and they want their dogs to have these outfits."
FOR THE PAST eight years, Lake Accotink Park manager Tawny Hammond has orchestrated the canine couture event, the second half of a day-long spring festival that begins with an egg hunt and pictures with the Spring Bunny for children and ends with a similar event for dogs.
"I wanted to somehow offer people fun events to go to with their pets," said Hammond, the owner of two yellow labs. "Arlington and Alexandria parks had some really great ideas, we just took the best ideas they had and brought them here."
When the pet parade was first offered in 1998, Hammond didn’t know what to expect. "I didn’t think anyone would show, but then something like 25 people came in with these dogs of all sizes all dressed up," she said.
The park offers events through the course of the year, balancing fun outings for dogs with some discussions of more serious topics for their owners.
"People with pets are so grateful for what we do," she said. "They know events like this are not guaranteed to be available all the time."
Sarah’s owners, Frances and Richard Tilghman, said they dress her up in little outfits all time, from bathing suits and sunglasses to coats and pajamas.
"She has a whole wardrobe," Frances Tilghman said, her own pale green dress almost the same shade as Sarah’s. Their other dog, a black lab named Magick, enjoys playing dress up too, he’s worn a tuxedo to the Washington Humane Society dinner one year.
"I think it’s fantastic that Lake Accotink has all these dog events," she said. "They’re always really well attended."
"As soon as we get into the parking lot, Magick starts crying, he’s so anxious to get out and play," Richard Tilghman said. "Any place that has a bone hunt he just loves. We just took him out to lunch but he’ll still be out there eating bones like crazy."
A tiny toy poodle, Chocolat was one of the more well-known contestants at Saturday’s event. She has been featured in several photographs in local magazines, said her owner, Gioia Forman of McLean.
"It’s good to have a place to bring her out and let her socialize with other dogs," she said, adjusting the straw hat trimmed with a pink flowered ribbon atop Chocolat’s head. "Plus, it’s good to see so many families out on such a great day."
Eden Butler, a Fairfax County volunteer, spent the day taking pictures of children and dogs with the Spring Bunny.
"I don’t know how he does it," she said when the bunny was on a carrot break. "He’s been here since 11 a.m."
This was Butler’s first year at the event, and while not a dog owner, she was enjoying the warm afternoon.
"I have a cat at home," she laughed. "She would not tolerate any of this at all."